White men leading in Dem polls raises issue of double standard

Less than a year after women altered the political landscape and helped win back the House, some Democrats are voicing disappointment that presidential bids launched by women haven’t completely taken off.

Six Democratic women are running for president in a dramatic increase from previous years. But just one, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place 2020 Dems say they will visit Homestead facility holding migrant children Warren visits migrant care shelter, says children being marched 'like little prisoners' MORE (D-Calif.), is in the top tier of the 18 candidates in the race.

And Harris is just outside the very top tier of the race, according to polls that consistently show former Vice President Joe BidenJoe Biden'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Don't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates Hickenlooper laughs off lack of recognition by security guard at Democratic debate MORE, who has yet to enter the contest, and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate 'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Don't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates MORE (I-Vt.) at the very top of the pyramid.

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Harris, who raised more than $12 million in the first quarter, does appear to be clearly in the top four of the emerging race, along with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).

But that means three of the top four candidates in most polls are white men, leaving a number of other high-profile women candidates behind.

“A few months ago, I imagined the top tier looking very different, especially after the 2018 midterm wins and the ‘Me Too’ movement,” one female Democratic strategist said. “It’s still early, but it is a little frustrating.”

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDon't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates Poll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place Senate Health Committee advances bipartisan package to lower health costs MORE (Mass.) Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPelosi: Congress will receive election security briefing in July 2020 Dems say they will visit Homestead facility holding migrant children The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate MORE (Minn.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandWarren visits migrant care shelter, says children being marched 'like little prisoners' Where 2020 Democrats stand in betting markets ahead of first debate GOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats MORE (N.Y.) have not been as competitive in the polls or in fundraising thus far in the race. Neither has Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardPoll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate Where 2020 Democrats stand in betting markets ahead of first debate MORE (D-Hawaii) or author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson2020 Dems say they will visit Homestead facility holding migrant children Where 2020 Democrats stand in betting markets ahead of first debate Gambling website offers bets ahead of Democrats' first debate MORE.

Warren, who last year was widely seen as a potential front-runner, announced Wednesday that her campaign had raised $6 million in the first quarter — less than Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegPoll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place 2020 Dems say they will visit Homestead facility holding migrant children Warren visits migrant care shelter, says children being marched 'like little prisoners' MORE, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Buttigieg was a political unknown months ago, and is another white man who appears close to breaking into the top tier of candidates.

Democratic strategist Jim Manley counts himself as surprised and cautions that much could change in the coming months. At the same time, he said “the reality is a lot of these women aren’t seeing much traction right now.”

Manley said he has been particularly impressed by Warren and the nuanced policy proposals she has put forth. 

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“She’s breaking a lot of ground with solid policy proposals and she isn’t getting a lot of traction out of it, but it is still early,” he said.

Some political strategists argue that female candidates such as Warren are being hurt by a political double standard that treats men and women differently.

“I think a lot of what’s happening is despite gains that women have made, they’re still dealing with a lot of latent sexism and double standards both from how voters perceive them and how they’re covered,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. “When one of the male candidates does something intellectual they are smart and new, but when one of the female candidates [talks about their policies], they’re too bland or wonky to connect with voters.”

A study by Northwestern University out late last month showed that female candidates in 2020 “are consistently being described in the media more negatively than their male counterparts.”

The study, which examined 130 news articles from mainstream media outlets, concluded it’s a “disconcerting trend” in 2020 election coverage.

Each of the women running for president has been mired in mini-controversies, some of which have drawn accusations of sexism.

Klobuchar faced a rash of negative headlines after former aides accused her of being a mean-spirited boss — something her defenders said would not have been an issue with a male boss.

Warren has had to deal with the fallout of her release of DNA testing to back her claims of Native American ancestry. Gillibrand has had to deal with brushback from Democrats who accused her of leading the charge in former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Mexican officials scramble to avoid Trump tariffs The Hill's Morning Report - Tariff battle looms as Trump jabs 'foolish' Senate GOP Barbs start to fly ahead of first Democratic debate MORE’s (D-Minn.) resignation.

“I am certainly concerned with the way that the media has been covering the women candidates versus the male candidates,” said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist who worked for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Don't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates Ocasio-Cortez on Biden: 'I think that he's not a pragmatic choice' MORE’s 2016 presidential campaign. “The press seems to spend time on the idiosyncrasies around the male candidates that they find charming but they don’t provide parallel coverage when it comes to females.”

“There’s so much focus on jumping on tables and an endearing Brooklyn accent and another candidate’s avuncular style of campaigning versus Elizabeth Warren’s policy chops and Kamala Harris’s record as a prosecutor. There’s definitely a double standard,” Petkanas added. 

Some observers also wonder if the polls are reflecting anxiety among Democrats over nominating a woman the cycle after Clinton’s loss to President TrumpDonald John Trump2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate Senate passes .5 billion border bill, setting up fight with House 'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again MORE.

“I hate to say it, but as 2016 showed us, misogyny is alive and well,” said Katherine Jellison, a professor of history at Ohio University and a scholar of women’s studies.

“For some reason, when some people think of a president, they still think of a white male,” Jellison added. “It’s an image they carry around in their conscious or even subconscious mind.”

Petkanas said the race is still young. He said he expects the standings to look much different in the lead-up to the early state caucuses and primaries.

“Anyone who is counting out the women in this race has not learned any lesson from 2018,” he said